Saturday, June 06, 2009

Can I still be simple if the problems are not?

conservative and liberal as a binarization of all political discourse and category does not serve us well.

I understand having a bill or debt to pay. I do not understand economics. So when bond vigilantes were first brought to my attention by Numerian at Agonist, I responded in full blooded pessimism. I can't be a bond vigilante until I buy some bonds of course. And I do not wish to shear away all the debt my government has signed up for because I know how many are unready for any such change and cling to one precarious niche or another afforded by that debt. But seeing we and our progeny are in hawk to the tune of about $40,000 per person, my intuition is that our government is out of financial steam and our average standards of living must take a hit as the government's debt service marches toward [4% times 40000 = ] $1600 per person per year. The per taxpayer number would be higher. In the past, US administrations have drunkenly looked at these damning numbers and dreamed that an ever expanding economy would tip us toward a net inflow to the coffers. It may have been so briefly during the Clinton administration but it is on the whole still a dream scenario.

But when TPM points me to Daniel Gross's seemingly clear and not too unbalanced recap of the Krugman-Ferguson debates over the signifcance of the jump in rates which the US government is obliged to pay to lure investment in its long term bonds, my simplistic self labeling as a person with fiscally conservative leanings just falls apart. If the optimistic interpretaion of Krugman's, which Gross upholds, is the correct understanding of bond yield trends, then I expect them to level off toward more historically typical values. But if nothing is done in line with Bernanke's warning that the borrowing is getting out of hand, then the long term treasury bond rates ought to remain aloft. And the longer they stay up, the more crushing their effect and the less our taxes will be spent on any thing to benefit citizen's needs in health, education, housing or transportation. In fact, only the brave individuals who continue to hold bonds in the run-away-debt scenario will gain much of anything.

In short, the fundamentals that I understand do not support optimism. There must be other fundamentals.

I need to get a copy of Daniel Gross's new book. Kevin Phillips book Bad Money handily converted me to a view that our economy is so busted and our self deluding tolerance for debt so entrenched that our decline is nearly inevitable. I am wondering if there are any nominally conservative authors [Philips is a special case] who have a book with the same conclusions as Phillips: fiscal policy since Reagan has been a formula for collapse. Pete Peterson? I should look up Martin Hutchinson perhaps. He predicted the Fed's woes a year before freddie and fannie went on treasury life support. He presently thinks "Most government debt markets (including some but probably not all of those in euros) are thus likely to suffer an oversupply crisis over the next year or so. "

I wonder if, like global warming, the US economy is a bad situation we have caused and our better informed students of economics will eventually form some majority warning that its nearly too late and painful corrective action or even more painful consequences await. And I wonder if, like global warning, a coterie of intellectual weaklings will be given equal air time to push a line of denialism?

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